With depleting fossil fuel reserves, the need for sustainable cost effective sources of energy is growing. Biofuels have not been able to satisfy this market demand. Joule Unlimited, a Massachussetts based company, founded in 2007, is pioneering the production of patented microorganism produced hydrocarbon fuel, using a sustainable and cost effective technique. It is the first time that an efficient method has been devised for production of renewable, alternative fuel on a large scale.
The company's Helioculture™ platform exploits the cutting-edge findings of genome engineering and bioprocessing to convert available sunlight and waste carbon dioxide into clean diesel. Their new SolarConverter® system is built to help facilitate the process continuously. This can also be scaled to required levels. This system will be able to generate diesel (Liquid Fuel from the Sun™) when required without exploring oil reserves and without having to process any crude oil.
This method does not use as much land and other resources unlike the other methods of alternative fuel production. When full-scale production is reached, the company expects annual production of up to fifteen thousand gallons of diesel per acre, at low costs of $30 per barrel. The company is currently involved in the pilot production of diesel and expects to begin commercial production in 2012.
Joule is developing a library of patented organisms, each one optimized for a particular end product. The microbes are engineered in such a way that they synthesize the fuel and secrete it directly without any additional steps like down streaming, thus cutting costs. There is direct conversion of carbon dioxide to liquid hydrocarbons and ethanol in a single step.
Their SolarConverter® system is designed in such a way that the diesel is directly produced in a single step. It performs photon capture, delivers carbon dioxide, synthesizes the product, thus making it ready for the market. The SolarConverter® system is easy to install and is scalable to the required level. It is possible to produce multiple end products by this method by modifying the microorganism. The product can also be refined to serve as renewable jet fuel.
Since sunlight is one of the main raw materials, this technology has potential to synthesize virtually an unending supply of diesel. It is scalable to any desired level. Since the process directly produces the end product, the processing costs are completely avoided. Although the production of fuel may be reduced when there is insufficient sunlight, there is continued production.
Since it uses waste carbon dioxide as a raw material, it has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide pollution and consequently the effect of global warming to some extent. The supply of the raw materials sunlight and carbon dioxide will also remain the same throughout the production process. Also, there will be almost no cost fluctuations of the fuel unlike the fossil fuel prices. The low production and processing costs ensure that the cost per barrel is much affordable than that of regular fossil fuels or alternate fuels.
The end product is diesel not biodiesel. So, it can directly be used in automobiles without any engine modifications being required. Biofuel can only be used when blended with regular fossil fuel. Also biofuel has some performance and pollution disadvantages.
Biofuel production systems use photobioreactors that are no cost effective to use. However, this company's SolarConverter® system involves a medium that circulates. It is comprised of the patented organisms, brackish water and micro nutrients, and allows conversion of carbon dioxide to fuel in a direct, continuous process. The SolarConverter® panels are designed in such a way that they utilize optimum light, are easy to install and to scale. Joule's projected productivity and cost per gallon make the SolarConverter® system very cost-effective.
The technology is currently commercial ready and will go into full production in 2012. Since the whole production process is above ground, exploration and processing costs are avoided. No exploration is required unlike fossil fuels, thus saving time and costs. No natural non-renewable resources of energy are used in the production of fuel, nor are water, land or crops used.
Although many alternatives to fossil fuels have been explored, many factors like limited raw materials, fluctuating prices and environmental pollution concerns have rendered them only partly successful.
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